We Own the Sky
By Luke Allnutt
Publisher: Park Row / Harlequin
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Rob Coates feels like he’s won the lottery of life. There is Anna, his incredible wife, their London town house and, most precious of all, Jack, their son, who makes every day an extraordinary adventure. But when a devastating illness befalls his family, Rob’s world begins to unravel. Suddenly finding himself alone, Rob seeks solace in photographing the skyscrapers and clifftops he and his son Jack used to visit. And just when it seems that all hope is lost, Rob embarks on the most unforgettable of journeys to find his way back to life, and forgiveness.
We Own the Sky is a tender, heartrending, but ultimately life-affirming novel that will resonate deeply with anyone who has suffered loss or experienced great love. With stunning eloquence and acumen, Luke Allnutt has penned a soaring debut and a true testament to the power of love, showing how even the most thoroughly broken heart can learn to beat again.
We Own the Sky
“What? Yes, fine,” I say, taking a sip of my pint.
“You were miles away.”
She doesn’t say anything and drinks half of her rum and Coke and shakes the ice around in the glass.
“It’s all right, Tintagel,” she says to nobody in particular. “I work in the village, at one of the gift shops. My friend works here.” She points at the barmaid, the one with the kind face.
“It’s a nice pub.”
“It’s okay,” she says. “Better on the weekend, and there’s karaoke on Tuesdays.”
“Do you sing?”
She snorts a little. “Only once, never again.”
“Shame, I’d like to see that,” I say smiling, holding her gaze.
She laughs and smiles back, then coyly looks away.
“Same again?” I ask. “I’m having another.”
“Not having something from that, then?” She reaches over and pats my jacket pocket, feeling for my hip flask.
I am annoyed that she has seen me and just as I’m thinking what to say, she gently touches my arm.
“You’re not exactly subtle about it, mate.” She looks at her watch and then realizes she is not wearing one, so instead checks the time on her phone.
“Go on then. Last one,” she says, chuckling to herself, struggling to get off her stool in her tight skirt. I watch her walk to the bathroom—a journey she chastely announces—and I can see the outline of her underwear beneath her skirt, the imprint of the bar stool on her thighs.
She smells of perfume when she comes back, and she has fixed her makeup and tied back her hair. We order some shots, and we are talking and drinking and swigging together from my hip flask, and then she is showing me videos of dogs on YouTube, because her family breeds Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and then clips of people fighting, people getting knocked out on the street on CCTV, because one of her mates from Camborne was a kickboxer but he was in prison now, assault.
Then I look up and it is all a blur, a skipping CD, the lights are on, and I can hear the harsh whine of a vacuum cleaner. I wonder if I have fallen asleep, passed out, but Charlie is still there next to me and I see we are now drinking vodka and Red Bull. I look at her and she smiles with wet, drunken eyes and she starts laughing again, pointing to her friend, the barmaid, who is scowling and pushing the vacuum cleaner around the carpet.
And then we leave, via a brief little farce where she said she thought she should go home, and then we are walking arm in arm along the deserted High Street, giggling and shushing and falling up the stairs to the little flat she has above the gift shop where she works. When we get to the top of the stairs, she looks at me, her mouth shaped like a heart and I feel a rush of boozy lust, so I pull her close to me and we start kissing, my hand reaching under her skirt.
After we finish, we lie on her small single mattress on the floor, without making eye contact, our heads buried into each other’s necks. When we have held each other for what seems like an acceptable amount of time, I walk along the hall looking for the bathroom. I fumble for a light switch, but it is not the bathroom, it is a child’s bedroom. While Charlie’s room was sparse, unfurnished, the bedroom looks like a showroom in a department store. A light shaped like an airplane, mirrored by a giant stencil on the wall. Neatly stacked boxes full of toys. A desk with colored pencils and stacks of paper. And then, pinned to a board, certificates and awards, for football and judo and being a superstar in school.
Next to the bed there is a night-light, and I cannot stop myself from turning it on. I watch as it casts pale-blue moons and stars onto the ceiling. I walk toward the window, breathing in the faint smell of fabric conditioner and children’s shampoo. In the corner, I see a little yellow flashlight, just like one Jack once had, and take it in my hands, feeling the tough plastic, the durable rubber, the big buttons made for young, unskillful fingers.
“Hello,” Charlie says, and it startles me and I jump. Her tone is nearly but not quite a question.
“Sorry,” I stammer, suddenly feeling very sober, my hands beginning to shake. “I was looking for the bathroom.”
She looks down at my hands, and I realize I am still holding the flashlight.
“My little boy,” she says, a moon from the night-light dancing across her face. “He’s staying with my sister tonight, that’s why I’m out getting drunk.” She straightens out some paper and crayons, making them symmetrical with the edge of the desk. “I’ve just had the room done,” she says, putting something in the drawer of the bedside table. “Had to sell a lot of my stuff to pay for it, but it looks nice, don’t it?”
“It’s lovely,” I say, because it really was, and she smiles and we stand like that for a while, watching the planets and stars dance around the room.
I know Charlie wants to ask me something: if I have kids, if I like kids, but I don’t want to answer so I kiss her, and I can still taste the vodka and cigarettes. I don’t think she is comfortable kissing me here, in her son’s room, so she pulls away, takes the flashlight out of my hand and puts it carefully back on the shelf. She turns out the night-light and leads me out the door.
Back on the single mattress, she pecks me sweetly on the neck, as you would kiss a child good-night, and then turns away from me and falls asleep without saying a word. Her naked flank is exposed and the room is cold, so I reach over and tuck the cover under her and it reminds me of Jack. Snug as a bug, snug as a bug in a rug. I drink the remainder of my hip flask and lie awake in the pale amber light, listening to her breathe.
We Own the Sky has been compared to novels by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Jodi Picoult, and John Green. To what authors do you turn when you want an intensely emotional story?
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